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October 8, 2011

Shaw confidently takes reins

That's all that was needed.

Connor Shaw played well in Saturday's 54-3 demolition of Kentucky, with a 26-of-39 line for 311 yards and four touchdowns. The statistics tell one story, Shaw's demeanor told a whole another.

Shaw, long regarded as having strong talent but perhaps not the necessary "edge" to play SEC football, looked confident. He was strong in his throws, knew when to move out of trouble, stayed away from trying to do too much and did what he needed to do.

In a year where any quarterback could have been handed the keys to No. 18 South Carolina's offense and told, "Just don't lose the game," the Gamecocks were about to do it anyway. Stephen Garcia, for all of his off-the-field foibles, could always be counted on to come to the stadium and play with confidence, with swagger. Through USC's first five games, save his relief appearance against East Carolina, he couldn't even do that.

Shaw had the reputation of a running quarterback, a player too quick to take off on a scamper without checking all of his passing routes. Having to make a switch to save the team, coach Steve Spurrier turned to Shaw and said, "You're up, kid."

Kid, as Garcia did against ECU, swung and connected.

Shaw moved the Gamecocks' with confidence and ease, despite having to take a few hits as USC's offensive line continues to try and shore itself up in the absence of Kyle Nunn. He held onto the ball when he ran, made smart decisions on his throws and most of all, used the weapons at his disposal.

Alshon Jeffery was a frequent early target, as was tight end Justice Cunningham. Facing third-and long after the Wildcats had gone ahead 3-0, Shaw hung in on the pass-rush to find freshman Rory Anderson streaking on the box-in route; Anderson gloved, cut upfield and galloped 46 yards to set up a red-zone possession.

On the very next play, Spurrier doggedly staying away from No. 1 gun Marcus Lattimore in order to free up what USC could do, Shaw again took what came to him. Jeffery ran to the corner of the end zone, Shaw tossed it up high, Jeffery leaped and did what Jeffery does.

Touchdown, Gamecocks, part of four for Shaw and seven for the day. As it was when the decision was made, there is no quarterback controversy here. While many were thinking of what USC could possibly do if Shaw under center didn't work, the concern was alleviated.

Shaw worked.

"I was a little anxious," the soft-spoken sophomore said. "I had a week of preparation and it made me feel good coming into this game. In Charlotte, I don't think I was prepared as I was. They let me know early in the week, so I just had a good mindset coming into it."

Shaw's confidence took a major turn upward and his team's confidence in him did as well. Where before was often a panicky wide-eyed freshman, Shaw on Saturday was a cool veteran.

"We've got so many weapons, and I really don't think it was a change," Lattimore said. "We just decided we've got all this speed, we've got all this quickness out here and we've got to use it."

Shaw was the maestro, and directed a near-flawless performance. While there is still half a season to go, change has come to USC, and for now, appears that it has done much, much good.

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